But before we get to that, the first thing I'll talk about is STYLE. START.
5. SBENU (Startale-yoe)
A fifth place finish for Startale seems pretty good. In TL's SPL Power Rank, they were estimated to be the 7th most powerful team. I personally would have rated them above MVP. In fact, I'm pretty sure stuchiu only ranked MVP in 5th because TaeJa and Choya forced him to.
Anyway, I digress. A fifth place for ST-y looks good on paper. The team was certainly respectable, especially with the support of Leenock and San. Add to that the in-form best player in the world at the time, Life. Life was never a big team league player, but he was in such great form he almost couldn't help but win anyway.
But when you look into it more, you suddenly realise something. 5th place? It could have been so much more. The final 2 weeks of Proleague's regular season were insanity. KT Rolster (bar Zest who tried to carry the team as well as he could) was having a rough time. Stats lost his spark, FlaSh and Life did okay at best, and TY didn't really accomplish a whole lot. With that, suddenly the defending champions found themselves at the brink of elimination from the entire tournament. Had SBENU won one more match and KT lost one more, a good playoff run from SBENU could have cost the Telecom giant everything. And SBENU could do it, they proved it by beating SKT as the first team in around 4 months.
But even before that, it was close. To start at the beginning, in round 1, the team performed amazingly, finishing in 3rd place of the round. In the playoffs, they lost their chance to get additional points as they were hit with a snowstorm and got stuck in traffic. Their ace player Life, however, only had a 5-4 record. How did they win enough matches to get 3rd place? Beyond the fact that Leenock still guaranteed them a point most weeks, the answer is actually not that hard. They won every ace match. Life won 2, San won 1. Had they lost those, they would have finished in 6th.
We could therefore attribute the team's success to Life, but I don't think that would be correct. Other players did better than him outside of ace matches, he was just their insurance for that final point. But missing that insurance turned out to be a massive problem in round 2. Life had left Startale to join KT Rolster, a massive surprise. The best player in the world switched teams mid-season. But apparently it didn't only catch the fans off guard. Startale finished the round with the dreaded 0-7 score, being the last team to lose to Prime in Proleague. And it was, of course, in an ace match. Throughout round 2, Startale reached 4 ace matches, they fielded 4 different aces (aLive, San, Hack, Leenock), and all 4 failed.
Clearly, something wasn't going well on ST after Life left, though regardless of this, MyuNgSiK joined them (after beating them in an ace match). But then they finally found a sponsor, SBENU, the shoe company of the BW scene's savior, Sonic. They were rebranded to SBENU and picked up several players, including DRG and jjakji, aswell as teaming up with Acer to give MMA the chance to play in Proleague before retirement. The team improved massively. Though whether it was fate or cruel irony, round 3 ended with 4 teams being tied at 3 wins, 4 losses, fighting for the 4th spot in the playoffs. It looked like CJ had been out of the running for that spot, but in the last week of round 3, a CJ miracle occured - everything CJ needed happened. Including SBENU not winning a map. SBENU needed exactly 1 map win to go to the round playoffs, those points could have helped immensely in getting to the final playoffs aswell.
SBENU was this close.
I think the team exceeded many expectations, especially after being rebranded as SBENU. Few people expected that ragtag group of eSF players to see this much success. The most shining example being DongRaeGu. His individual league results in 2015 were pretty much non-existant, he failed to qualify for anything. Even at his highest skill peak in Proleague, he lost to TaeJa in Code B. But his Proleague run was something else. Especially in round 4, he effortlessly swept aside some of the best players in the world. He defeated Losira, FlaSh, Maru, BrAvO, and the most impressive of all, he ended soO's winstreak in ZvZ. DRG originally left SBENU to compete in WCS Premier, and now that he is left without that option and without a team, time will tell what becomes of him. But he definitely did a fine job for SBENU as long as he was there.
Another player probably exceeding expectations was the Leenocktopus. At 11-7, his winrate was the 2nd best on the team and especially at the start of the year his ZvP was looking amazing. It was just the sheer existence of Life that overshadowed his round 1. In round 2, he was barely fielded and failed an ace match. Only in round 4 did he really return to form, only to once again find himself overshadowed by another Zerg on the team.
I also appreciate the fact that SBENU partnered with Acer to give MMA the chance to play in Proleague once before retiring. His record wasn't too great, but it was a fine gesture. They also partnered with Invasion to give their players (Harstem!) the chance to practice in Korea, so that's nice.
Finally, Curious and MyuNgSiK improved immensely in individual leagues after the team became SBENU, so kudos to you.
Well, they lost Life. That was pretty bad. He'll never become the greatest team league player of all time. But he's clutch, he doesn't tilt. He's a great choice for ace matches, and it took the team a long time to recover from this
There was also that time they got stuck in traffic and got a def loss to Jin Air in the round 1 playoffs. A literal blizzard killing eSports. Aswell as the fact that the team played an entire round in jerseys saying "We need a Sponsor" (curiously, after Life left, coincidence?).
I've already talked about their terrible round 2 and the fact that they missed several chances to get points for the final playoffs, so I won't repeat that.
After Life left, SBENU played a total of 7 ace matches. I've already touched on this. Their record ended up as 2-5 in ace matches, with 2 ace matches played against Prime. But that was certainly not the only time players on the team choked.
I already linked the MyuNgSiK vs soO game that could have easily lead to SBENU taking 4th place that round. But even that doesn't show the full extent. Apparently, most members of SBENU are legitimate experts at throwing away games they could easily win (and in some cases, should have won). A list of potential games evidencing that (note: round 3 and 4 only) would include games such as: jjakji vs BrAvO, jjakji vs DeParture, Bomber vs Seed, MyuNgSik vs Maru, MMA vs Hurricane and others.
These guys definitely show nerves.
DongRaeGu vs Maru
Leenock vs Classic
Curious vs Life
Life vs Cure
Bomber vs FlaSh
MMA vs Cure
jjakji vs sOs
4. KT Rolster
As a fan of the team, this was a pretty bad year of Proleague. Coming in as the defending champions, everyone expected the team to do better than it did. Sure, the B-team wasn't exactly promising, but then it wasn't in 2014. As long as the top 4 guys would deliver again, everything would be fine.
Enter the slump. It's hard to tell at this point what exactly went wrong for KT in round 1, because so many things went wrong at once. FlaSh had one of the worst rounds of his career, his only win being against BBoongBBoong. And though I don't doubt that the game would have looked similar no matter what, B4 got money to throw this game. So basically it was an 0-6 round for FlaSh is what I'm saying. And it wasn't that he was playing his weakest matchups on unfavourable maps. Throughout his StarCraft 2 career, TvT and TvZ had always been his best matchups, and in 2015 they failed him.
TY, at this time of the year in 2014, was on top of the Proleague food chain. 7-0 in round 1, and that was during the blink era when facing Protoss players on Yeonsu. Of course, he also easily defeated all Terrans and Zergs coming at him then. In 2015, this invincible strength left him. I suppose there isn't much shame in losing to sOs (although sOs was also in bad form), INnoVation (who took over the role as SPL's top Terran that round) and Curious, they're all good players. But in general, KT would have expected him to beat at least one of those 3, the form just wasn't there. There was also that time where he got outplayed in a macro game on King Sejong Station by Guilty in the latter's debut game. Yeah, that wasn't great.
And finally, there was Zest. The greatest player in the world for most of 2014 and one of the most dominant PvP players ever (his all-time winrate in the matchup is still almost 70%). Of course, most of his losses in round 1 had to come from Protoss players. Nothing else would make sense considering how that round went. 2 losses to Creator in one day aswell as a loss to Yonghwa, for Zest's standards that should be unacceptable. Losses against in-form Maru and Leenock I won't hold against him, but those PvP's clearly proved Zest's lack of form.
Basically, KT's strategy for round 1 was the following. Hope 2 out of Zest, TY and Stats win, then field Zest in the ace match, and if the opponent's ace player is a Zerg, yay, we win! I suppose I should talk about Stats then. His round 1 started off terrible. He got humbled by MarineKing. The game ended with an SCV pull by the MVP Terran, where Stats accidentally used his colossi to focus down his own stalkers. Yes, that happened. But from that point on, Stats really couldn't be bothered with losing, beating some of the best players in the world.
In the first 3 rounds of Proleague, he took a combined 3 losses in the regular season and 2 additional losses to Maru during the round playoffs. If we ignore round playoffs entirely, Stats actually has a winrate that only Rogue and the SKT players can match. More than half of his losses in the regular season came in round 4, when he had a dip in form following his loss to Classic in SSL after being up 2-0 and failing to unpower the proxy oracle because one shot went into the stargate instead.
Before that, Stats was effortlessly winning pretty much against everyone, especially Zerg players, though that matchup had been his speciality in most of HotS. For the longest time, the only Terran he couldn't get past was Maru, and the only Protoss who gave him trouble was Classic. Stats was most definitely doing his best to carry his team. And luckily for him, FlaSh and Zest returned to form (basically, as their winrates increased) and re-found their winning ways. For the most part.
TY in the meantime was dropping off the map. KT Rolster had made its move, they signed the best player in the world at the time, Startale Life. Suddenly, even though TY contributed a lot to KT's success the year prior, his spot in the lineup was gone. In round 2, he didn't get to play at all in the regular season, only in the playoffs, in which, credit where credit is due, he defeated Trap who had shown good form at IEM Katowice and beyond. In round 3, he was fielded 3 times, defeating Solar (still in his slumping ways) and YoDa, but falling to an all-in from Losira. In round 4, he lost both games he was fielded for, against GuMiho, one of the best TvT players in all of Proleague, and Classic, one of the best Protoss players in the world. But as his form was getting better, and he reached his first top 4 in a Korean league, he finally found his fighting spirit. In the round 4 playoffs, he all-killed CJ Entus. Granted, the CJ players all have had better days than that one, but it's still impressive.
Life himself was doing about as well as you would expect him to do in a teamleague. He got 3 to 4 wins per round and sometimes lost in silly fashion (proxy gateways in the middle of the largest map come to mind). Somewhat to my surprise, he accomplished almost nothing in all-kill format matches however.
Round 4 in general was a special round. Not only did Stats finally have a weaker form, not only did KT finally win a round final. As I mentioned when talking about SBENU, KT was few losses and 1 great SBENU or Samsung performance away from doom. Which for KT constitutes not making the final playoffs. That would have been entirely unacceptable. For 3 weeks, the team just couldn't get it together at all. Zest won every week and got a perfect round, but for 3 weeks, he was the only good thing about KT. Everything started out well, a 3-1 against CJ Entus. CJ should by all means be a bigger hurdle than MVP and probably SBENU aswell.
But it turns out that wasn't true for KT that round. FlaSh got outcontrolled by DeParture, outsmarted by DongRaeGu and outplayed by Sorry. Life got made a fool of by Blaze's proxy gate and then Curious ran circles around him in ZvZ. TY lost to 2 very strong opponents and Stats... I honestly don't really have words for what he was doing in his games against jjakji and Dark. The best word for it is probably derping. In the end, luck was on KT's side, however. They still had to face Jin Air, their single worst nemesis in Proleague this year, and Samsung, whose players were outdoing themselves this round. However, Jin Air just so happened to have their worst period of the year in round 4. When it was time to face Samsung, who still had a super slight chance at the final playoffs, 3 of their best players were playing tournaments in the US. And the lineups favored KT. And thus, KT made it in the end. A close cut against SBENU and the final boss, the only player actually bringing Zest to the brink of losing in the entire round. Dominating performances against CJ and SKT to finish the round, and KT was all set for the playoffs.
The Final Playoffs
As a fan, the moment I realised my favourite team would have to go up against Jin Air Green Wings, my heart dropped. Combining Proleague and all-kill format for 2015, KT was 1-5 against Jin Air. KT was 1-11 in maps against Maru. Granted, Maru and subsequently Jin Air were in the worst form of the season in round 4. But I didn't trust that to last. And boy, was I right.
Flash <Echo> Trap
FlaSh coming out first had already worked against Jin Air the year prior, as he slew sOs on Outboxer on day 3. This time, he would play against Trap on Echo. Trap is a good player, but given their form in the matchup at the time, FlaSh was favored to win. It turned into a scrappy game. At times, it looked like FlaSh had won the game and there was no way back in. There was one part of the game where half of FlaSh's army was able to hold back the entire force of Trap near a planetary fortress. But in the end, FlaSh messed up too many times and couldn't close out the game. Trap did good harassment, got himself back into the game and won the late game.
TY <Iron Fortress> Pigbaby
Supposed to be a free win for KT, given the difference of skill and their recent form. Pigbaby had failed to cheese FlaSh out of Code S, while TY had been killing the best Protosses left and right. Everyone knew Pigbaby was going to do an all-in. The fans knew it. The casters knew it. Everyone on KT knew it. TY definitely knew it. Everyone on Jin Air knew it. Everyone thought they were prepared for Pigbaby, but boy where they wrong. It was one of the most masterfully crafted pieces of Protoss bullshit ever. Pigbaby deserved an award for that game.
Super <Cactus Valley> Cure
Another game full of bullshit, but it was of the less masterful variety. Super went for the Genius special while Cure built widow mines. They both played well below their level. Or rather, what should be their level when they play on this level of competition.
Zest <Vaani Research Station> sOs
...beyond words. Zest was in form, nearly invincible in PvP for several months, with his only losses in the MU coming from Stats. sOs was coming back into his absolute top form at the time. And because he's sOs, he expanded to the central gold on Vaani Research Station. Zest could have gone for a timing and either outright won the game or been massively ahead, considering his opponent's bases were spread apart as much as they were. But he didn't, he played it slow, went for the macro game, took a 3rd base and died the moment sOs attacked him. Well shit.
Life <Terraform> Maru
All the pressure was on Life, playing against Maru, on Terraform a great mech map. And Maru played the turtle game. More so than I've ever seen him do it, Maru turtled. And Life simply wasn't able to find a way this time.
So we start day 2 as day one, with FlaSh vs Trap on Echo. The game starts, but few seconds in, a break is called, there's an issue. Trap looks very nervous, what's going on? A probe is moving out, the game is barely started. Oh boy, here we go! Long story short, Trap can't go through with the in-base proxy because FlaSh builds his depot at the ramp, Trap is super far behind. Then all his units get caught out on the map and he taps out. So next game, FlaSh vs Rogue. Iron Fortress is a great map for Zerg, and one of the weakest mech maps, and mech is almost exclusively what FlaSh played in the matchup at the time.
FlaSh does a mech push instead of going for the full turtle, parading mech units across the map while taking a 4th. It's hard to say if Rogue expected something like this, but it wasn't impossible for him to stop it. Rather, it wouldn't have been had the vipers been in position, but they weren't. So FlaSh sieged Rogue's 3rd and Rogue ran out of options. Time for game 3 then, Coda is the map, and Jin Air is only left with Maru and sOs. Maru comes out. He deflects FlaSh's banshee with barely any damage taken (a reversal from their last game on the same map), and the bio vs mech ensues once more.
Maru tries his best to pull FlaSh apart in his typical fashion, but he never has quite enough. Hellbats here, tanks and a PDD there, vikings and turrets. FlaSh always has enough where Maru wants to hit him. The best Maru is managing is small paper cuts. Finally, the moment of truth. FlaSh moves out with his mechball, toward Maru's 4th. Pretty much Maru's final chance to get a favorable engagement against the superior army from FlaSh. He doesn't manage it, gets rolled over and FlaSh drops the manner MULEs, now up 3-0 against Jin Air by himself.
Of course, then the unthinkable happens. sOs gets the reverse all-kill. Beating FlaSh was likely. Beating FlaSh and TY possible. Beating FlaSh, TY and Zest? Quite unlikely. Beating FlaSh, TY, Zest and Stats? Now that should never happen. But it did. He only played 2 matchups, but sOs still used a different approach on every map. A goldbase all-in against FlaSh, blink into DTs into macro against TY, a macro game with double warp prism and a colossus drop against Zest, and a standard macro game against Stats. This was not an all-kill of the Billowy variety. KT was unable to overcome this 1-person, $O$ challenge.
Though I blame the staff for not fielding Life, personally. ZvP was his best MU in late 2015, he later proved that point at Kung Fu Cup and Blizzcon. I think they should have trusted him back then. Alas, we'll never know.
Stats had a great season. 3 losses in the first 3 rounds combined, only 2 losses against Zerg players throughout the whole season (and both due to him making silly mistakes), which amounted to a 78% PvZ winrate. He carried the team to the best of his abilities whenever he could. He didn't seem to get much recognition from the coaches from this, as he wasn't rewarded with any ace matches for the longest time, and downplayed his own performance after all-killing SKT, stating that he couldn't possibly be KT's ace before winning a championship. Still, he earned a lot of respect for his performance, both in and outside of Proleague, as 2 consecutive semifinals in SSL are very impressive. Of course, people didn't really talk about that as much, they were too busy watching the emergence of 2 new Kongs in one year.
The signing of Life was quite the step. Life had been on Startale for 3 years. He had been the best player in the world at multiple points in his career, and he's on of the greatest, if not the single greatest, players of SC2 ever. And he only turned 19 on the day I'm writing this. No other player is close to matching his achievements and still that young. Even though Life won't become the greatest team league player of all time, he's a great pickup and did the team good, and will continue to do so in the future.
And of course, the turnaround. Round 1 was genuinely abyssmal, but all players recovered. In the end, they all contributed to KT getting to the playoffs, despite the bad start. Especially Zest, who went from 6-5 in round 1 to 7-0 (excluding playoffs) in round 4 and getting the award for most wins at the end of the year (shared with CJ herO).
Obviously, as the champions of 2014, they had expected a lot more. It wasn't very likely they would win, as SKT had much greater depth, but then, it wasn't all that likely they would win in 2014 either, so that shouldn't matter too much. I've talked about this for long enough, I guess I don't really have to repeat myself here.
A huge problem for KT was predictability. The same 5 players played every time, no deviation, for 3 rounds, with the sole exception being when FlaSh, Zest and Life were at IEM Katowice. That's not hard to see through for other teams, and often times it just seemed like KT's preparation was a bit lacking.
And finally, Action retired. Fuck. RIP good ceremonies.
Zest vs Dream (Zest had many other great games that are worth checking out)
Stats vs Cure
Life vs Trap
FlaSh vs ByuL
TY vs Solar
Action vs Dear
3. CJ ENTUS
CJ Entus comes in at a very respectable 2nd place in the final point tally, and 3rd place in the final playoffs. That's pretty solid improvement over their previous season, all things considered. In 2014, they finished in 4th place in points, and since the playoffs were in a different system, they were 3rd-4th along with Jin Air in that regard.
Let's take a look at the roster changes for CJ then, to see whether this improvement could have been expected. For new signings, CJ picked up ByuL in July 2014. As the previous ace of IM, he was most definitely no slouch, but the development he took in 2015 was surprising to say the least. The other signing was young Zerg player RagnaroK, previously of TSL, IM and AZUBU. He joined CJ in January, having very few results to his name. The most impressive singles competition result he had at the time was a 5th-6th place at MLG Anaheim in 2014, which is elevated by the fact that he was without a team at the time. He was lacking in experience, but not talent. In the last season of the GSTL, he accumulated the best record on AZUBU and the 2nd best record of the season (behind INnoVation), despite being on a team with SuperNova and Symbol, who were both still very strong at the time.
The potential for improvement therefore was obvious considering the talent for newcomers. However, let's take a look at who left. The first big player to look at is the man who would later become MVP's ace player, GuMiho. In part 1, I already went into some of his accomplishments, including an 8-0 record in GSTL finals and beating the best player in the world after getting viciously attacked by a Proleague booth. I'm just gonna assume something went wrong in the teamhouse for GuMiho, because despite being as good a team league player he is, in 2014 CJ fielded him only 8 times, despite the fact that his winrate was the second best on the team. In 2015, he joined in a bit late, but rapidly accumulated the best TvT record (more than 5 games played) in the league at 6-1 and went 2-0 vs Zerg. His TvP record at 1-2 was still good considering it was against herO (who lost to exactly 3 Terrans in the entire SPL season), Zest and Classic. Regardless, this was a loss for CJ.
The second big name to go was Hydra. Once an MSL champion in Brood War, Hydra was a well-respected member of the team, however, his results on CJ were only rarely above average. A top 4 finish in IEM Singapore in late 2013 and several Ro32 finishes in Code S were the best SC2 results to his name before joining ROOT Gaming and having the single best year of his SC2 career. His Proleague results are also not as spectacular as those of other players who transitioned from BW. Even when ignoring the 2011-2012 Hybrid league nobody gives a shit about anymore. In 2012-2013, he had his best Proleague year and finished with a 30-26 record. He got the most wins and third best (5+ games player) winratio on CJ. Interestingly, that was based solely on the fact that his vP was the best in Proleague. Hydra was at 18-6 in ZvP, only sOs and Zest had somewhat similar records. Of course, that also means that Hydra's ZvT and ZvZ were pretty awful at a combined 12-20. In 2014 Proleague, he did much worse, 10-16 overall, with ZvP becoming his worst matchup. So he was a solid player for CJ, but they couldn't always rely on him to bring in the wins in Proleague. In spite of this, Hydra was clearly a loss for CJ. He would have been a valuable practice partner, and he was doing fine in GSL for most of the year.
The final departure was a very special one. EffOrt. EffOrt had also been with them since BW, through high and low, and was a legend in his own right. An OSL champion, and a player with one of the longest streaks in BW of all time. In SC2, his performances didn't really live up to the name he had made for himself in BW. His highest finishes were a top 8 at the same IEM Singapore Hydra got top 4, and a Ro16 in Code S, where he was subsequently eliminated without winning a map. Despite of this, he was an overall more solid Proleague player than Hydra for most of his SC2 career. In the 2011-2012 PL nobody talks about, he was the top performing player on CJ Entus. In the 2012-2013 season, his winrate was ever so slightly lower than Hydra's, but more consistent, in that he didn't have 2 really bad matchups and 1 outstanding one, rather, he was about as likely to win ZvT as he was to win ZvP, only his ZvZ was slightly above. Finally, in his last year of PL, his form dipped. He went 2-6 in ZvZ (albeit against strong players) and 0-6 in ZvP, an all around disaster. However, what was of incredible value to CJ was his abilities against Terran. He lost one ZvT to Maru, but won all his remaining games in the matchup, making him a valuable snipe pick. He was one of the deciding factors in CJ's run through the round 3 playoffs that year. This was clearly another strong player leaving CJ, though with EffOrt, we all knew the time would come at some point when he would retire.
Left on CJ from before were herO, the player with the most regular season wins of 2014 (tied with sOs), Bbyong, a crazy Terran who somehow found his way into Code S when almost no other Terrans could, sKyHigh, mostly infamous for dismantling FlaSh in TvT at Hot6ix Cup, Bunny (not Liquid Bunny), a Terran with good multitasking who is solid but has no results to his name, Trust, an inexperienced player, Sora the Autumn Toss and Hush (fka Bong). Honestly, in hindsight and without ByuL, this sounds less than impressive.
The Final Playoffs
After KT was out, I was interested to see how well CJ would do against the same opponent. CJ and Jin Air had been pretty much fighting for the spot behind SKT for the entire year, so I was excited despite the fact that 'my team' had been beaten. Taking into consideration the fact that CJ is somewhat weak in all-kill format (3-7 in series since 2014), I expected either a clean 2-0 for Jin Air, or an exciting 3-day battle.
The lineups were announced, and it was looking to be interesting.
Bunny <Echo> Rogue
Rogue was massively favored, but Bunny has caused upsets in the past, especially vs Zerg, so I wasn't counting him out completely. They play a pretty much straight-up bio/mine vs ling/bane/muta TvZ, just like many others in HotS. And in the end, Rogue simply displays his superiority and beats him, ending the game with a huge baneling morph and manual detonation right outside Bunny's natural base.
Bbyong <Iron Fortress> Cure
Bbyong was the heavy favorite. His mech and his TvT are solid, and Cure hadn't won a single TvT in Proleague since the meta shifted back towards mech after the map pool was changed. Cure went for bio/tank, surprising our beloved Team Salmon. I was pretty glad, because Cure's greatest strength are his mechanics, and he can use them to their full potential with bio. However, despite all the clever harassment damage Cure inflicted, he never managed to derail Bbyong. Once Bbyong was all set and moved out, Cure found himself completely unable to stop the mech train. He had missed the sky transition point, traded away/trapped a lot of his army at Bbyong's third for mining denial, and also way more workers than his opponent. His army stood no chance and he got rolled.
ByuL <Coda> sOs
Probably the most even match. Neither of these players are really experts in the matchup, in fact, both of them mostly strive versus Terrans, who commonly appear on Coda. Both of them make up for this deficit in the matchup by being more skilled and intelligent overall than most of their opponents. Regardless, this match wasn't really any good. I'm not sure what was going on, but ByuL looked like he was on the verge of breaking completely due to Kong disease. He got 3 hydra dens, 2 spires, and 1 loss. None of those structures were used for upgrading, by the way.
Sora <Cactus Valley> Trap
In a macro game, I would have favored Trap for sure. However, Sora didn't have that in mind at all when the game started. An astonishingly precise gateway all-in that relied on wallling Trap in in his own main base with 3 pylons at the ramp brought Sora a quick victory. And Sora didn't even have the opportunity to overcharge those pylons yet.
herO <Terraform> Symbol
herO was the heavy, heavy favorite in this game, and it showed. He completely dismantled Symbol. Using cannons & gateway aggression to punish Symbol's hatch placement, the (recently crowned) Starleague champion swept away Symbol with complete ease.
RagnaroK <Vaani Research Station> Maru
Maru was, of course, the favorite here, despite his terrible round 4 in Proleague and his year-long struggle with Zerg. RagnaroK should not be counted out, he has shown some excellence in the past, such as defeating INnoVation in a macro game (albeit one involving lemons) in 2013 GSTL. But honestly, this game was weird and not good. Maru rushed out drilling claws for fast mine drops. RagnaroK went for the saddest roach/bane composition in the history of everything. A lair but neither baneling speed, nor other tech options. No mutas to deny drops (though he did an okay job defending). He had 4 bases of economy, pretty much unhindered, too, but had nothing to do with them. So he went for this roach/slowbane attack, ran into a tankline, lost half his shit, tried to retreat without a fight and lost the rest of his shit. Okay then.
Ace Match: herO <Echo> Rogue
Basically CJ's best chance to win the whole series came with winning this one game. herO had shown his strength against Zerg time and time again, and just recently had been crowned S2SL champion after dominating ByuL. Rogue on the other hand is mostly known for using strange or creative builds to throw his opponents off, most famously running circles around herO with the new swarm host. They both opened in the standard, rather boring style that became common for the MU in late HotS. Neither of them was under pressure so they could expand without any cares. There was no indication that Rogue would end up winning against a zealot/stalker/sentry/archon/immortal deathball in this game with such a brilliant move. It was beautiful, and the beginning of the end of CJ's Proleague season.
Unlike with Jin Air and KT, day 2 opened differently from day 1. Jin Air had decided to field Cure on Vaani Research Station, which was a risky move, as CJ could have easily sent out Bbyong, who Cure would have had tremendous trouble dealing with. However, instead, CJ decided to put their faith into one young Protoss going by the ID 'Trust'. Trust had played 1 game the entire season (and to his credit, he won it). He also qualified for every season of Code S, which is impressive considering there was a full reset and players like Zest and sOs struggled to get back in. Those results are probably one of the main reasons KT Rolster picked him up in December.
Trust had hit his best MU, the PvT. However, Cure went back to the roots of his team. Against the Jin Air Proxy Wings, there's no such thing as safety, and Cure's 2-rax was too much for Trust to overcome. CJ retaliated by sending out Bbyong for the TvT rematch from the day before. This time it would be mech vs mech, and it was even more one-sided than the day before. Bbyong took the win once again, which caused Jin Air to send out Rogue. Despite his inability to defeat Maru's mech in GSL (although honestly that was his own mistake) and FlaSh's mech in PL, Rogue had a reputation of being able to deal with mech better than most Zerg players. He dominated the game on Coda and made Bbyong's mech look like a hopeless endeavour.
In comes the herO CJ needs (maybe even the one they deserve?) to take on Rogue. A cannon rush turns the game into a giant mess early on, including Rogue taking more than half the drones from his main for a ride across the map in hopes to deal counter damage to herO, after losing his natural to the cannon. Honestly, the best thing about this game was herO hallucinating a colossus and sending it across the map. Jin Air then sends out sOs, the man of the hour against KT. On Terraform, herO decides to use a strange build. He walls himself in completely and then goes for an oracle. sOs defends that and counter attacks with stalkers, warping in directly at herO's ramp from 3 warpgates. Since herO locked himself out of his own main, his stalkers are trapped on the ramp and he has no choice but to tap out. Therefore, it was time for CJ's final reserve. Unless ByuL took down sOs (and then either Maru or Trap), this would be it. Unfortunately for ByuL, he could not make it happen on Cactus Valley. His ling/hydra attack was on the verge of success, but sOs held on by the skin of his teeth and eventually was so far ahead ByuL couldn't recover. And thus ended the season for CJ Entus.
Damn, ByuL delivered. 2015 was pretty much his breakout year. I knew he was good, but he exceeded all my expectations. Not only did he build himself a strong 21-16 Proleague record (including a 3-kill vs Rogue, Trap and Maru), but he also found himself becoming the best Zerg in the world in individual leagues, finishing top 2 in consecutive GSLs and an S2SL. Even soO felt the pain. Beyond that, as I said, his Proleague record was more than respectable. He also remains the perfect ace match player, not taking a single loss in ace matches. He was the only player on CJ this year to multi-kill, and he was the one who broke INnoVation's Proleague winstreak.
herO had a strong year overall. He got the award for most wins in the regular season for the 2nd time in a row, once again shared, this time with Zest. His team could rely on him, especially against Terrans. Only Maru (round 1 playoffs), FlaSh and TY (round 4 playoffs) managed to beat herO in TvP all season, which is incredibly impressive considering that herO never really changed his approach to the MU much. herO didn't exactly play unpredictable, but he still went 14-4 against Terran overall. Interestingly, it were the Zerg players who adapted and gave him trouble. Being a former Zerg player himself, it's not a huge surprise PvZ has always been herO's best MU in SC2 overall, his all-time winrate in the matchup is nearly 69%, which is absurdly high. PvP has always been his worst, and the same was true for SPL 2015, but the fact that herO only went 6-6 in PvZ was surprising. 4 of those losses come from Rogue (3 of which were specifically crafted snipe builds), one at the hands of DeParture's clever double roach warren build and the last loss came at the hands of Solar who was just returning to his peak form.
I also don't want to leave out Bbyong's contribution to CJ's success. He won a total of 16 games (best MU: TvT), including 2 ace matches.
Honestly, the bad things about CJ's season aren't exactly many. For one, there is CJ's weakness in all-kill. I'm not sure what it is exactly, but the only player on the team to get more than 1 win in an all-kill match was ByuL. CJ won only 1 of their all-kill matches this year. herO has also, despite being one of the stronger Proleague players in SC2 history, never all-killed, while players of lesser skill than him have.
In the end, that probably boils down to predictability. Even outside of all-kill, herO got sniped (especially against Zerg) more than once this year. FlaSh exploited his predictable TvP gameplan by going full greed, using his macro to create armies herO just couldn't stop. DeParture exploited the fact that herO relied on very few units and mostly sentries early on in PvZ and just built a roach force that couldn't be stopped. Rogue used 3 distinct, elegant snipe builds to defeat herO. Other players didn't have that issue to such an extent. Of course, herO deflected his fair share of attempts to exploit his style, but nobody had to deal with this as much as him. That's definitely a sign of respect – this player is absolutely worth taking out, no matter what – but also a sign that he's easy to read. The new coaches need to work on that for 2016 Proleague.
And the final issue, aside from Coach Park leaving behind SC2,...
The 4th player
When you look at CJ, the top 3 find themselves easy. herO and ByuL as the aces, Bbyong as the most consistent player among the rest. The problem is that none of the other players stand out as saying 'Coach, I'm that guy you have to field all the time, I can get you those wins.'
When you look at the rosters of the top 7 teams in Proleague, you will find yourself seeing something resembling this.
SKT – soO, Inno, Classic, Dark, Dream
Jin Air – Rogue, sOs, Maru, Trap, Cure
CJ – herO, ByuL, Bbyong, ???, ???
KT – Zest, Stats, Life, TY, FlaSh
SBENU – DRG, Leenock, Curious, Bomber
Samsung – Solar, Dear, BrAvO, Reality, Journey
MVP – GuMiho, Losira, Yonghwa, Blaze, DeParture
As you can see, every team had a more or less reliable core of at least 4 players (mostly even 5) they would field fairly often (to varying degrees of success). Case in point, all teams except for CJ had at least 4 players they relied and could rely on for almost every match, some of them even 5. CJ is the odd one out. There is no real dedicated 4th player. The closest thing they had to that, if you look at the entire season, would have been sKyHigh, but he dropped off the map at the end of the season and didn't get fielded in the playoffs.
CJ changed the final player in their lineup an absurd amount of times, far more than any other team. Now, whether that's because their entire B-team somehow managed to be on the same skill level or because Coach Park had commitment issues, I do not know. But pretty much every player got a turn at least once. Now, this is admirable, because playtime is important especially for young players like RagnaroK and Bunny. But on the other hand, it can be problematic. Going into the playoffs with Jin Air, we were left guessing. Jin Air's lineup is pretty obvious, 5 out of 6 are easy predictions. Okay, which players will come out for CJ? Who comes out to support herO, ByuL and Bbyong? The regular season had given us no indication of who it would end up being. And even in those playoffs, the staff switched from day 1 to day 2. On day 1, the chance was given to Bunny, Sora, and RagnaroK, on day 2 Trust was sent out to prove himself.
Sorry, but the most important match of the season is a bit late for experiments. SKT was testing their players weeks in advance, giving Sorry and Impact multiple chances and also giving Billowy an opportunity to prove himself. Even if you're "just" the 4th player on the team, you want to get into that Proleague booth as many times as you can to get used to it. CJ definitely needs more of a pecking order in 2016, and the young guns have to finally step it up. It'll be interesting to see how different CJ will operate with OriOn as the headcoach instead of Coach Park.
herO vs Curious (huehuehue)
ByuL vs INnoVation
Bbyong vs Dear
sKyHigh vs Losira
Bunny vs sOs
Trust vs Stats
Hush vs Panic
Sora vs Trap
PS: Once again shoutout to whoever reads everything. And also lichter.
Next time, on Blogball Z: Will I smarten the fuck up and write less? Also, the epic conclusion of my Proleague recap with Jin Air and SKT!